Do Checked Bags Still Have To Travel With Domestic Passengers For Security Reasons?

During the August 25 Airlines Confidential podcast, former Spirit Airlines CEO Ben Baldanza took a listener question about whether checked bags have to travel with passengers.

The listener flew from Denver to Los Angeles with their family. His wife’s ID didn’t match the name on their ticket, and they couldn’t get this sorted in time for the flight. She had checked a bag, but had to take a later flight. The gate agent told them “we no longer remove bags from non-flying passengers, so her bag will travel.” It did.

Baldanza agreed that positive bag matching is required, but that there’s an exception in this case. I don’t think he’s right here. Baldanza said,

  • The agent gave “a partially correct answer,” it would be more correct to say “we no longer remove bags for all non-flying passengers.”

  • When there are multiple people in the same reservation (PNR), then “what the security rule says” is that as long as another adult in the booking is on the flight the bag can travel.”

  • Since he was still traveling, his wife’s bag could go also.

Baldanza concluded, “for security reasons there can’t be a bag in the belly of the airplane that isn’t owned by anyone on board the airplane” since an adult on the reservation was on board it was fine. This just isn’t the right answer to the question, as far as I’m aware.

Positive Passenger/Bag Matching (“PPBM”) was common in Europe before the United States, though programs developed here in the years following the the bombing of Pan Am flight 103. It means that the passenger and their bag has to travel on the same flight. If a passenger offloads from the aircraft, the baggage has to be removed also.

The idea there is that for security reasons you don’t want a passenger putting something on the aircraft (a checked bag) without tying their own life to its contents. That doesn’t help against a suicide bomber but before 9/11 the expectation was that terrorists didn’t want to lose their own life in the process (and it’s not clear that all of the 9/11 hijackers realized that was the plan either).

However “positive bag matching” is generally not done on U.S. domestic flights anymore because the bags themselves are now being screened. Positive bag matching is required under 49 USC § 44901(e)(1) as one of four methods of compliance where baggage isn’t electronically screened.

  • Passenger and bag can be required to travel together
  • Bags can also be manually searched
  • Or searched “by canine explosives detection units in combination with other means”
  • Or baggage security can be handled through “other means or technology approved by the [TSA] Administrator.”

Passengers and their bags are separated all the time even where positive bag matching is in place. For instance an airline may fail to load baggage onto a connecting flight. The passenger continues their journey, while the bags follow later. That’s considered acceptable because it’s not the passenger who redirected the bags, in fact the passenger intended to fly with their bags.

Making sure passengers and bags travel together was considered a second best, replaced on domestic flights by screening of bags themselves. And bags are certainly screened on an American Airlines Denver – Los Angeles flight.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

More articles by Gary Leff »


  1. You are correct Gary. Rather disturbing that a former airline CEO doesn’t know a very basic security rule.

  2. Along a similar line, I used to find the cards indicating my bag had been opened every two to three flights where I checked a bag. That’s been rare lately. They must have better screening devices.

  3. I was voluntarily bumped off a Continental flight to Israel in the late 90’s and my bag flew without me (I was flying alone). I always assumed that that just happened sometimes.

  4. I’ve had to cancel Southwest flights last minute while in line for boarding. I was told it was too late to remove my checked bags but I could go down to the baggage desk, let them know what happened and they would see that I got it back. Got a call from the airport the next day that it had returned.

  5. Interesting. I had last minute re-route on Delta a few months back IND-DTW-OMA, originally I was supposed to go IND-ATL-OMA. My bag ended up going IND-MSP-OMA. It was checked at the Delta counter prior to the re-route. All’s well that ends well.

  6. I find no reason for anyone to question the rules and regulations implemented for security reasons. Hey Gary everything here is clear and concise. At some point, I feel like the scenario on the listener’s wife would have been automated, and quick action was to be taken. All in all good information Gary am impressed reading!!

  7. American Airlines cancelled our second segment FLL-CLT-DFW a few months ago after delaying the flight several times. BUT they put our checked bags on an earlier flight CLT-DFW, so the bags flew to Dallas and we were stranded in CLT for 2 days without luggage. We did get 2 of the bags sent back to CLT the next day but this was a real mess. They should NOT have put our bags on a flight without us, but they didn’t even compensate us for the things we had to buy for a family of 6 stuck overnight with nothing.

  8. And while you can’t knowingly separate from your bag, you can’t reunite with it either! I was once an a UX flight that needed to bring some bags up from below for w/b – in cabin bags are weightless. They told ground crew to bring up green tagged (gate checked) bags but they brought up white tagged bags instead. Much hilarity ensued!

  9. IDK what the rule is elsewhere but I hope that PPBM will go the way of the dodo. Nothing worse than take-off being delayed because some jackass failed to show and then the whole flight gets delayed by them having to go into the hold to remove his luggage.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *